Reading People’s Emotions: A Beginner’s Guide

“Just the facts ma’am” — wrong!

In school and university, we are constantly taught that only facts and rational, logical arguments matter. Then we enter the workforce. People’s responses are driven more by feelings than facts.


Wouldn’t it be great if we “unemotional” types could figure out how people feel? Perhaps we haven’t “put our foot down” too often. We may find it easier to handle customers/bosses or colleagues.

There is! This is a technique used by life coaches. This is called “listening to emotions”.

What to hear

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There are five areas to go home to…

1. Spoken words

Listen carefully when someone uses “emotional words” such as, “This made me really angry,” “I’m scared to death,” etc.

This may sound like an exaggeration, but it tells you how the speaker feels about the situation. To find out more, you might want to ask: “What makes you so angry/scared?” etc.

When your speaker answers, stay silent and listen carefully to what they have to say. You might learn something that helps you see things from their perspective.

2. Unspoken words

Sometimes there is a message in what is not said. This often happens when you are at a customer site and two colleagues are talking. One says: “Well, George will be George…” and the other exchanges a glance at the first glance.

We can imagine that George was difficult to deal with for the two colleagues. If George is a key influencer for you in the company, that’s useful to know.

3. Pitch

When you listen to a person’s voice, you get an idea of ​​what voice is “normal” for them.

At some point, you will notice that the person’s tone is low.

It indicates a change in mood. Ask yourself: “What triggered the apparent change in mood? What did we talk about then? “

By matching a change in tone with a change in subject matter or in response to what you or someone else says, you can tell if you’ve touched a nerve you missed.

Depending on the situation, this may be an area to avoid or investigate further.

4. Pace

When you talk to the other person, you get an idea of ​​how fast they usually talk. Again, watch for any sudden change in speed.

If a person suddenly starts talking fast, they feel uncomfortable and want to get over this topic as soon as possible.

If a person hesitates, they may not know what is the best thing to do to achieve the desired result.

Either way, they don’t look as comfortable as they did a few moments ago.

Again, ask yourself: “What triggered the apparent change in mood? What did we talk about then? “

This may reveal what the “elephant in the room” really is.

5. Power (Volume)

How loud is the person talking? Think about how the person speaks at the beginning of the conversation and how he changes his tone.

Many people focus on the loudest person during a conversation, but in reality, more is revealed when they are quiet. This happens when the conversation takes a turn they are not comfortable with.

Our favorite questions are, “What triggered the apparent change in mood?” and “What did we talk about that time?” will serve you well.

Changing the temperature

Businessmen listen to their colleague during a meeting

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Once you get used to the idea, you’ll realize that these changes rarely happen in isolation. A reduction in volume usually comes with a reduction in speed.

If you are talking to the person face-to-face, it can also come with the person facing away from you.

Practice makes perfect

Businessmen talk to each other and read each other's emotions in a meeting

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You have many opportunities to practice and perfect this skill.

Watch movies where the acting is good and the dialogue is the main part of the movie. The opening scene of godfatherA classic example is Don Corleone’s various characters asking for favors at his daughter’s wedding.

Watch the interviews. Some classics are David Frost’s famous interview with former President Nixon after his impeachment or Emily Maitlis’ interview with Prince Andrew. Michael Parkinson Celebrity interviews often reveal unexpected emotional depths.

If you are speaking in a group, try to observe the behavior of others more carefully. You may need to speak less to give yourself time to notice. What you see may be very revealing.

Michael Creighton, in his novel rising sunIt has been observed that Japanese managers often deliberately take a “back seat” at the beginning of negotiations, partly to give junior colleagues a chance to gain experience, but also to observe the other side without thinking about what they are saying first, so assess the other person’s weaknesses before closing the deal.

The last step is to start assessing the other person’s emotional state while you are talking to them. You’ll find that this exercise gives conversations a whole new depth.

To read more…

You may also find this interesting: Pulling Tiger’s Teeth: How to Deal with Angry Customers

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